Russia 110214 Basic Political Developments

The rake of multiculturalism

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The rake of multiculturalism

Published: 14 February, 2011, 06:37

Edited: 14 February, 2011, 07:28

When resolving inter-ethnic problems, Europe has no authority over Russia Aleksandra Samarina

Late last week, the State Council Presidium convened in Ufa to discuss problems related to inter-ethnic communication in the country. As expected, President Dmitry Medvedev used this opportunity to provide a detailed assessment of the sensational statements made earlier by some European leaders about the failure of “passive tolerance” and “multiculturalism” policies. Medvedev recognized this conclusion to be unsuitable for Russia. NG’s experts have varying assessments of the head of state’s speech and the measures, proposed by the State Council to resolve the problem.   

British Prime Minister David Cameron had made his speech before the start of the conference in Munich, and it immediately became a sensation. “The policy of multiculturalism,” complained the head of the British government, “has failed…we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and much more active, muscular liberalism”.

Medvedev decided to respond to the Europeans at an event, most suitable for such occasion. On the presidential agenda was the State Council meeting in Ufa, focusing on the struggle against nationalism. The gathered governors and ministers suggested various ways to resolve the problem. All these measures were fairly common and reduced to the simple models of the Soviet era: to create another state body, another person in charge, to write a request for more funds for another federal program.

In the end, the president did voice the decision to create a post of another deputy prime minister, responsible for inter-ethnic issues. And at the same time, during the discussion, he called the ideas of Chancellor Angela Merkel and Prime Minster David Cameron “a new fashionable trend”. The head of state cited Bashkortostan – a republic, “where the country’s major ethnic groups are equally represented” – as an example to show why these ideas are unsuitable for Russia.  

Today, there are many new fashionable trends in the discussion of the ethnic-communication issues,” said Medvedev. “In Europe, it became fashionable to talk about a failure of the policy of multiculturalism. The argument is that this is not the policy that is aimed at a harmonious development of various cultures in one country, with a leading ethnicity; doing that is senseless; it’s better for all other cultures to develop strictly within the traditions and values of the leading ethnicity”. For Russia, argues Medvedev, “this would be a significant simplification, despite the colossal role of the Russian culture”. 

At the same time, the president reminded heads of the national republics about the importance of “a balanced personnel policy”: “It’s no secret that during the formation of regulatory bodies in the regions, there are unspoken limits for members of certain nationalities. This is an absolutely immoral situation”. The president instructed the government and the presidential envoys to analyze the problem and issue proposals on ways to eliminate such distortions, “even if it already has a historic character”. 

The president has some problems with the media which, according to him, incorrectly covers the state’s fight against terrorism: “It’s reported that ‘today, such and such emir from such and such organization was arrested’. But, what emir? What organization? We all perfectly understand that these are not faith advocates, but thugs and criminals. They don’t have organizations, but only dirty, smelly caves, where they hide; and they are no emirs, but simply monsters, who kill children and women. But no, they keep repeating: they are such and such.

There are some laws of public propaganda that, in the end, are again starting to work against us on the subconscious level,” underscored the head of state. 

The media was also criticized by the Regional Development Minister, Viktor Basargin, who set forth the idea of special federal programs during the meeting. He argues that, “today, the phrases ‘Chechen terrorism’ and ‘Russian fascism’ are equally unacceptable”. Meanwhile, Basargin did not explain what the press should use to replace the information, extremely important for the citizens, about the terrorists’ nationality. Instead, the official suggested developing a program to fight nationalism. However, it turns out that until the Federal Council meeting, the minister, who is in many ways responsible for handling inter-ethnic conflicts in the regions, was sure that everything is just fine in the country? And during the meeting with the president, he suddenly opened his eyes?      

Director of the Institute of Global Studies, Mikhail Delyagin, considers the problem of these clashes to be a common one for all countries that come to face it. However, notes the expert, the situation in Russia differs from that in the West: “The West has overestimated its integration abilities, and mainly – the desire for integration. They did not understand the cultural differences between representatives of their ethnicities and the vast masses of refugees, whom they welcomed with the best intentions. Thus, their integration policy was absolutely meaningless and without teeth”.

In Russia, indicates NG’s interlocutor, it is a completely different situation: “Our leadership is not even trying to work on inter-ethnic policies. It came to the point that the Ministry for Nationalities has been destroyed. In other words, this policy, as such, does not exist here”….When we see that the Ministry of Regional Development is urging to abandon such notions as ‘Chechen terrorism’ and ‘Russian fascism’ – it is one of the many examples of decay of Russian statehood,” argues NG’s interlocutor.      

The trouble, notes the expert, is the fact that the Russian authorities “have, in recent years, been conducting the policy of suppression of Russia’s indigenous population and promotion of various diasporas…..And the fact that the Tajik diaspora is not hated as much as some of the others, and that it is regarded with sympathy and compassion, is not the result of the state policy, but simply by the quality of the Tajik people, the Tajik culture”.

Suppression of the Russian peoples and Russians in general, and promotion of various diasporas, has been done unconsciously, says Delyagin, “according to the principle of ‘it’s business, nothing personal’….The corrupted part of the government, which has basically turned a significant element of Russian statehood into corruption structures, lives for the bribes. Diasporas are more eager to issue bribes than the indigenous population, and do so in a more clever way. Meanwhile, many representatives of the diasporas do not insist on their rights before the officials, because some believe that they will take these rights themselves, if not with money, then with a knife and a traumatic gun, and others understand that they don’t have any rights, because they are foreigners here”. 

Therefore, says Delyagin, “for a corrupted official, the indigenous population is an absolutely unacceptable social group”: “And it is in these conditions that the talks on multiculturalism begin. Tolerance, in today’s Russian language, means that if you are butchered by representatives of the diasporas, you don’t have the right to be unhappy, because otherwise, you are a Russian fascist, and must be jailed. I hope that Medvedev understands tolerance, not as it is defined in textbooks”.  

Director of the Institute of Anthropology and Ethnography of RAS, Valery Tishkov, disagrees with his colleague, and shares the presidential assessment: “We have our own policy of multiculturalism, which is called multi-ethnic and has existed since the Soviet times. Abandoning it, as some of our extreme nationalists-chauvinists would like, will be impossible as Russia is built on a multi-ethnic and multi-religious foundation. I prefer speaking about the multi-ethnic Russian people as a civil nation… The fact that during the meeting of the Federal Council Presidium in Ufa President Medvedev had defended our own experience – is correct. Today, some of our politicians are showing an unfounded enthusiasm: ‘there you go, we have long been saying that it’s time to end with the republics’… However, I will acknowledge that, so far, nothing has collapsed in the West. Tolerance continues to be on the agenda both here and there”.

Member of the Science Council of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Aleksey Malashenko, has noted some pre-election rhetoric towards the end of the president’s speech: “The statements made by Medvedev regarding organizations and ‘smelly caves’ – is a copy of Vladimir Putin’s famous phrase about ‘wiping them out in toilets’”: “I believe that such stories need to be covered in a more balanced manner. Suggest instead of criticize, because otherwise, the question arises: 'What are you guys hiding? What are you really saying?’”   

Once the pre-election campaign and the psychological breakdowns related to the campaign are set aside, sooner or later the leadership will need to develop an inter-ethnic program, says Malashenko: “That, what was done here in this regard in the 1990s, but by far has not been exhausted. The ideas of introducing the term ‘Russians’ with the emphasis on citizenship continue to be relevant today. Changing concrete actions and decisions to loud rhetoric will lead to us seeing another explosion as a response to the ‘smelly organizations’”.

Moscow’s armada§ion=opinion&xfile=data/opinion/2011/February/opinion_February59.xml

Owen Matthews

13 February 2011

While much of Europe slashes spending to reduce deficits, surging oil prices are allowing Russia to splurge. The Kremlin’s choice of stimulus package is a bit of a throwback, though — among other things, a new fleet of warships to challenge China.

Last week Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced a whopping $678 billion package of new defence spending for the next decade, with a quarter of the money going to revamp Russia’s Pacific fleet. On the Kremlin’s shopping list: 20 new ships, including a new class of attack submarines, plus new missile subs, frigates, and an aircraft carrier.

Ostensibly, the point of all this spending is to show China that Russia’s still in on the great power game in the Pacific. But the Kremlin also needs to funnel money into the country’s sclerotic arms industry to keep it alive. Russia’s military-industrial complex employs close to 3 million people and accounts for 20 per cent of all manufacturing jobs. And though Russia is still the second-largest conventional arms exporter after the US, its defence industries are in serious trouble. Last year Russia sold about $10 billion worth of arms — mostly bargain-basement conventional hardware — to foreign customers. But, says analyst Alexander Golts, as many as 25 per cent of Russia’s defence enterprises are facing bankruptcy and most are an inefficient “hangover from the Soviet-era military.” Even Russia’s own Defence Ministry has gone shopping abroad for the first time since World War II for equipment that Russia is incapable of making — for instance, two 20,000-ton Mistral helicopter carriers that the Kremlin has ordered from France for €1 billion apiece.

Russia’s army is in no better shape. Last month the Moscow-based Centre of Analysis of Strategies and Technologies published a report estimating that though the Russian Army, in theory, fields 1.1 million men, only two brigades, or 9,000 men, are actually deployable.  Throwing money at the problem may not make the Russian military a modern fighting force, but it will keep millions of Russian soldiers, sailors, and arms manufacturers employed. Most important, it will make many bureaucrats and defence contractors very rich. President Dmitry Medvedev himself estimated that in the last year Russia’s bureaucrats stole a trillion rubles, or $33 billion, from the state budget. The Kremlin even confirmed that it splurged on a new super-yacht for Medvedev — which, according to reports, cost a cool $35 million, even secondhand. Does that count toward Russian naval power?

© Newsweek

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